Boosting your employability | The Careers Service Boosting your employability – Oxford University Careers Service
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What are ‘core employability skills’?

Often known as ‘soft skills’, these are a core set of competencies expected and sought by employers for any position of responsibility and influence. They relate to our ability to interpret the world around us, relate to people effectively and to set, then meet, organisational goals.

We have explained the eight core skills that typically recognised across all job sectors, and listed under essential and desired qualities in job descriptions.

Under each skill is a list of ways to prove or improve this skill, all of which are achievable while studying or working at Oxford.

Preparing for academia

Core employability skills are increasingly relevant for academia, even if not made explicit in the job description.

Commercial awareness is vital to understanding the position of an academic department amidst economic and political change affecting funding streams.

Leadership, management and strategic thinking skills are invaluable to departments preparing submissions for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research and allocating funds accordingly.

For further insight, see our section on Pursuing Academia in What’s next for you?

What do employers beyond academia think about you?

Recruitment is similar to match-making in that the fit has got to work both ways. We often dwell on trying to understand which work settings would suit us best, but rarely do we consider how a research background is understood by worlds outside academia.

Our research amongst employers shows that some may have a very out-dated, stereotypical view of academic research, for example that it only involves staring down a microscope or at ancient manuscripts. Others see it as involving very long time horizons, such as thesis submission after three or four years, not realising that there are multiple project deadlines within this. Another common perception is that researchers always prefer to work independently and have little or no experience of teamwork.

You could laugh at these stereotypes or dismiss them because they do not reflect your experience. The reason to pay attention is that to a greater or lesser degree, they are likely to be the lens through which your application is seen.

Read more on this topic in our Early Career Researchers blog.

Come to Careers Fairs to get the inside track

Meeting people is the best way to understand what every day working life is like in any given sector, and to hear what organisations are looking for in new recruits.

Every year we run a one day a large number of Careers Fairs catering to all interests, plus a one day Careers Conference for Researchers at the end of Hilary term. Scan brochures from previous fairs and conferences to see the range of organisations participating and talks from employees, some of whom have doctorates.

Come to as many events as you can and keep an open mind. There’s no need to sign-up for the fairs, and we open bookings for the Conference in January.

At  most fairs, we run Researchers@, a pre-fair hour hosted at the same venue by a specialist Careers Adviser to discuss how to get the most from the fair. You can book a place using CareerConnect.

One week before the fair, download the brochure and decide who you’d like to talk to so you can be sure to have your questions answered.

Audit your skills and spot any gaps

Your skills will broaden and deepen as you progress through your research degree and related job. See our specific advice in our bespoke pages: making your PhD count or leveraging your postdoc.

Use definitions of each core employability skill listed on our page to audit what you have then plan accordingly. The Vitae grid is also helpful for seeing where other researchers have identified these skills in their routine activities and how they describe them.

How can I fill critical gaps, or boost my skills?

If you are very busy, take a moment to reassess your priorities: What matters most in the long term, your PI’s project or your ability to contribute to the world?

David Bogle points out that “lots of the research might not be going anywhere, (but) the newly trained postdoc will”, then argues for skill development opportunities for postdocs that enable them to move on, whatever their direction (ibid.).

Be bold in your decision to invest time: all research staff are eligible for professional development time within contracted hours (see leveraging your postdoc), and students are actively encouraged to take up offers of training focusing on personal and professional development as well as the technicalities of the PhD.

Review our core employability skills page to identify very light-touch, occasional activities relevant to the skills you would like to strengthen.

If you want to combine core skill-building with professional networking in a sector you care about, think about joining the team of Oxford postdocs and DPhils running

“Being on this friendly and productive team allows me to reach out to former postdocs in organisations of particular interest to me, and is honing my communication and editorial skills. I find the light and flexible work flow easy to manage alongside my job.” (Oxford postdoc, 2018)

To find out more about joining, write to

Consider the value of, and best timing for activities needing a bit more time:

  • The Researcher Strategy Consultancy an experience-based programme to bolster skills rarely honed in early academia such as leadership, strategic thinking and customer focus
  • Summer and micro- Internships managed through the Careers Service are open to all students.
  • NEW for research staff in 2019 are micro-internships for research staff – apply now to meet the 1st April deadline!
  • Research staff and students can apply to all internships advertised on CareerConnect, or can follow our advice to approach an organisation to negotiate some work experience.
  • Work shadowing in research-related roles within the University is now being piloted. If you are interested in being kept informed, please write to

Check out the careers training offered by your Divisional training teams and others. Many workshops are now open to all:

This information was last updated on 13 March 2019.
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Recent blogs about Boosting your employability

OXFO L.E.V8 Accelerator

Posted on behalf of Oxford Foundry. Blogged by Mike Moss on 20/09/2019.

OXFO L.E.V8 (Elevate) at the Oxford Foundry is the University of Oxford’s most diverse accelerator. The programme takes in up to 12 high potential ventures a year and is designed to support and nurture early-stage start-up teams affiliated to the university.

Oxford students, staff and alumni can get six months free support to build their venture. This includes mentorship, masterclasses, and access to the Foundry’s global network of investors and partners including Biz Stone, Cofounder of Twitter and Medium, Jenny Tooth OBE, UK Business Angels Association, Professor Bill Aulet, MIT, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, and Robin Saunders, Managing Partner at Clearbrook Capital.

Ventures also get support to build a team – many ventures have met their cofounders through the Foundry, along with leadership and resilience skills support, financial, business, pitching, product-market fit, customer development and legal advice.

To date, the Foundry has supported 19 start-ups who have raised £7m, created 70 jobs and are having a global impact across sectors including retail, medtech, energy, publishing, fintech and more.

The accelerator is based in our Oxford Foundry building on Hythe Bridge street and runs from 18 November 2019 to May 2020.

“The Foundry has accelerated our growth by providing a space devoted to entrepreneurship, giving us access to people with diverse talents and expertise, and to its network of investors. It has been incredible. Such growth wouldn’t have been possible without the Foundry. We are now focused on raising capital and sales and marketing. We want to sign ten new clients by the end of the year.” Jason Lacombe, CEO, Veratrak.

We welcome solo founders and teams and it’s a fantastic chance to be part of a supportive and expert community.  The programme is equity-free.

Apply online on the Oxford Foundry website. Deadline: 30 September 2019.

International Mathematical Olympiad: Exclusive talk and weekly cash prize competitions

Posted on behalf of G-Research. Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on 28/06/2019.

G-Research, a leading quantitative research and technology company and long-standing Oxford recruiter is sponsoring the International Mathematical Olympiad 2019.

Weekly Competitions

To celebrate this, they are launching a weekly mathematical challenge in the style of IMO problems – with a cash prize of £1,000 each week for the first person to submit the correct answer. A ‘warm-up’ taster challenge will go live on Monday 1 July, and the first cash prize challenge will go live at midday Monday 8 July. You will find the puzzles here >>

Exclusive talk on Combinatorics: Monday 22 July, from 18:00

Professor Po-Shen Loh (Carnegie Mellon University), national coach of the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team national coach of the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team will give a talk on combinatorics in London on 22 July.

When Bare Hands Fail: An Interactive Talk on Combinatorics with Po-Shen Loh,

Where: The Royal College of Physicians, 11 Saint Andrews Place Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4LE
When: Monday 22 July, from 18:00
Reserve your place: please email – places are limited and first come, first served so register ASAP to avoid missing out!

This interactive lecture will use one of the most difficult problems from a recent USA Mathematical Olympiad exam to illustrate the connections between modern combinatorial problems and theorems and techniques from other branches of mathematics, such as algebra, probability, and even topology.

Free event, and travel to and from the event will be reimbursed – please remember to bring your receipt with you on the day.

Bolstering your core employability skills – for Researchers

Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on 21/05/2019.

Do you know which skills employers are looking for – and which of these you already have? Are you looking for tips on how best to communicate your skills to employers?

Come to our workshop for DPhil students and research staff, Bolstering your Core Employability Skills for Researchers, to learn what core employability skills are, how to identify your current skills set, and how to demonstrate these in the job application process.

When: 4 June, 13:00-16:00
Where: Seminar Room B, St Cross Building
Book your place here.

Researchers in Schools programme: applications close 27 May!

Posted on behalf of Researchers in Schools. Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on 08/05/2019.

In the UK today, there is an entrenched link between household income and educational success. Pupils from low-income backgrounds are far less likely than their wealthier peers to attain five good GCSE grades, progress to higher education or have a fulfilling career.

The Researchers in Schools programme tackles this by mobilising the research community to become outstanding classroom teachers, as well as champions of evidence-based practice and higher education.

We offer PhD researchers a unique, generously-funded route into teaching tailored to your abilities, knowledge and experience. Through our programme, you’ll develop the skills to become a highly-effective classroom teacher, helping support pupils, regardless of background, to excel and progress to higher education.

  • Complete our Research Leader in Education Award, a fully-funded, three-year programme of professional development designed around the PhD skill set;
  • Create and deliver Uni Pathways, a university-access intervention based on your PhD, aimed at increasing target pupils’ chances of attending a highly-selective university;
  • Take one day of protected time each week to work towards the RLE and Uni Pathways;
  • Receive honorary academic status at a research-intensive university, providing access to research facilities and a network of academic support;
  • Benefit from competitive financial support, including generous funding options for your training year.

For more information and to apply, visit Applications close 27 May 2019 so please submit your application as soon as possible!

May is a month of career development opportunities…

Blogged by Rachel Bray on 02/05/2019.

This term is already flying along… Take some time out of your research to reflect on your career development, and make some easily-actionable plans.

Join us for an updated Career Management workshop for DPhil students and research staff in one of three locations during 4th week:

  • Tuesday 21 May, 10:00 – 12:30 (followed by lunch), St Luke’s Chapel, Radcliffe Obs Quarter. Register here.
  • Wednesday 22 May, 10:30 – 14:00 (lunch provided), Gottmann Room, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford, OX1 3QY. Register here.
  • Friday 24 May, 10:00-12:00, Seminar Room A, English Faculty (St Cross Building). Register here.

This interactive workshop – piloted last week and received excellent feedback – will enable you to to step back, consider future possible career paths, and identify what you have to offer to employers within, or beyond, academia.

Topics will include job satisfaction, your values, career motivations and transferable skills. Our focus will be on making the most of what you already have, opportunities to boost any core employability skills during your time at Oxford and how to articulate these to others, whether in person or in applications. We will also share  top tips on effective, mutually-rewarding networking

You will be encouraged to draw your insights together to begin a realistic personal career plan and to consider your next steps.

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